It’s been almost three months since the Newton Community School Board of Education made its decision to end discussions with AT&T on placing a cell phone tower on district property, and on Monday, it reversed that decision in a 4-2 vote.
“It’s certainly attractive getting our attorney fees paid for, but on the other hand, I think of all the time it feels like we’ve wasted,” board member Donna Cook said, prior to the vote.
Cook and board member Bill Perrenoud were the two “No” votes.
The board agreed to reopen discussions with AT&T and Steve Ward, who had been working with the district previously as the company’s representative. Ward apologized with how things went wayward previously and expressed a strong desire to get a deal done.
During the discussion on the matter, Perrenoud presented Ward with a series of questions on the deal and asked Ward “is there any way to guarantee that we wouldn’t be strung along again?”
“My dad always said, ‘There’s no guarantees in life,’ but I want to get this deal done,” Ward said.
By agreeing to reopen the discussion with AT&T, there were a number of things the district wanted changed from the previous contract. The new deal wouldn’t be anywhere near the length of the previously presented 25-year contract and the district would able to opt out, as long as AT&T had 18 months to find another suitable site for tower.
There would also be some changes in financial metrics of the deal, and Ward said AT&T would cover a percentage of the district’s legal expenses for having to have its legal team review the various contract proposals over the years.
District Business Manager Gayle Isaac said he wasn’t sure how much money the district had spent sending the contract back and forth to its attorneys.
Ward said the reason AT&T kept previously asking the board to delay its vote on the previous contract was that AT&T had changed its partner company several times during the negotiations and each vendor made additions and or subtractions to the previous contract.
Superintendent Bob Callaghan said he and Isaac toured the grounds, along with Ward, where the proposed tower would go and that the district couldn’t build anything on those grounds.
“I will say Mr. Ward has stepped out. We have probably talked on the phone a minimum of a half dozen times, we’ve met in person, and he agreed to be here tonight because, if this is going to happen, there needs to be a partnership between the district and AT&T, who is represented by Mr. Ward,” Callaghan said.
In other business, teachers from Woodrow Wilson Elementary School and the preschool program at Emerson Hough gave presentations to the board.
During the Woodrow Wilson presentation, which focused on co-teaching in the district’s upper-elementary levels, board member Sheri Benson asked why isn’t co-teaching being utilized more in Berg Middle School and Newton Senior High School, since the model has a proven success rate.
Co-teaching is when general education students and special education students share the same classroom and there is a general education teacher and SPED teacher who teach together as partners.
BMS Principal Scott Bauer said his school currently has three co-teaching classrooms. Bauer and Elementary Education and Secondary Education Services Directors Jim Gilbert and Tina Ross, respectively, all said they were looking at finding ways to implement it at the secondary level in the future.
They cited the difficulty in creating a co-teaching model that works effectively with the more fluid schedules students at the secondary level have. All three said this has been a heavy topic of discussion for them, and Bauer even invited Benson to visit his office and see his wall of ideas on expanding co-teaching at BMS.
After her staff gave its report on the preschool, the program’s director, Jaime Cranston, wanted to inform the board that beginning in the 2014-15 school year, the preschool would no longer use Wednesdays as its non-student contact days.
Instead, she said, they will change it to Mondays to fall more in line with the district’s SY 15 calendar.
Ross later in the meeting provided the board with an update on the district’s transition to only using “highly qualified” paraprofessionals next school year. According to Ross, 97 of the district’s current paras are enrolled in a class to earn their National Career Readiness Certificate, one of the five ways a para could become highly qualified.
Paras need to attain at least a rank of silver from the NCRC test to be considered highly qualified.
Ross also said three paras have chosen not to retain their employment with the district following the school year.
Senior staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at email@example.com.